The Samurai was the first four-wheeled vehicle Suzuki sold in the U.S., but its history begins nearly 20 years before the plucky little 4×4 made its way across the Pacific. In 1968, Japan’s Hope Motor Company introduced a small kei-class 4×4 with a 359cc Mitsubishi engine called the ON360. Suzuki bought Hope and developed the ON360 into the 1970 LJ10 (“Light Jeep”), also known as the Jimny.
Suzuki introduced the second-generation Jimny in 1981, and in 1985 it began exporting the Jimny to the U.S. as a 1986 model. Badged as the Samurai, the U.S. version had a carbureted 1.3-liter overhead-cam four-cylinder delivering 63 horsepower and 74-lb-ft of torque. It was noisy and slow—MotorTrend clocked it to 60 mph in 16.9 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 20.47 seconds at 64.5 mph—but good fun around town, and off-road it was nearly unstoppable, with its primary limitation being its street-spec tires. Manual-locking front hubs were standard, with auto-lockers available as a dealer-installed option.